AUSTIN, TEX. - If tech startups want to make a splash with their creation, they come to South by Southwest Interactive. The festival saw the inception of tech giants like Twitter and Siri from Apple. Creators are constantly running around Austin, Texas, the epicenter of the tech world for nine days.
The stakes are high.
Tech innovators come here to make a name for themselves, to be the next big thing. For more than a week, March 11 to March 20, the music, film and interactive portions of the festival take place. The combination of these three threads, some say, makes for a perfect recipe.
“Each of them is almost like a mini conference by itself that attracts all the greatest innovators and leaders from that space / You get this great serendipity, the interaction and the mixing of all those different kinds of creative people and that’s really the special sauce of South by Southwest,” said Joshua Baer, executive director of the Capital Factory. Baker describes Capital Factory to VOA as “the center of gravity of entrepreneurs in Texas.”
In a swanky building in downtown Austin, Capital Factory has 15,000 square meters of pure tech incubating, creating and collaborating.
The building that houses HQ is sort of a dichotomy. The elevators seem like you’re about to go into a financial investment firm but once the doors open you can tell this is the kind of laid back place that serves tacos and beers at the end of the workday on Fridays.
“I actually think the real value for startups at SXSW is the ability to connect with the right people in small, intimate settings. It’s not so much about putting your name on a billboard or throwing the biggest party,” said Joshua Baer.
Companies like Sony or Samsung lease entire buildings near the Austin Convention Center, where a lot of the action happens. During SXSW, they are branding central for those tech companies that want to have a huge presence in the festival. Baer said that for startups, SXSW Interactive, at its core, is much more.
“It’s about identifying the key influencers from all over the world that are coming to Austin just for this event, find out where they’re going to be and how you can connect with them,” said Baer.
If SXSW Interactive wasn’t a big deal already, the reputation was cemented even more with President Barack Obama being one of the keynote speakers and the first sitting U.S. president to speak at SXSW.
The Obama administration has been pushing for better synergy between Silicon Valley and government.
“I’ve spent some of my career in the private sector, some in the NGO sector and now in government and I think that magic happens at the intersection of these sectors. That we each have unique assets we bring and we have limitations and it is by working together that we could really do more than any of us could do alone,” said Ann Mei Chang, chief innovation officer at USAID and executive director for their US Global Development Lab.
Watch video report on virtual reality at SXSW:
Changing tech, changing lives
Innovators do not only want to change technology. Innovators also want to use it to change the world around them and help people. SXSW Interactive has what they call different “tracks.” One of them is health and medical technology.
Some here want to save lives.
Breath Diagnostics, from Louisville, Kentucky, is one of those startups. They created a technology that detects if a person has lung cancer by analyzing their breath. The breath test is cheaper than biopsies. It is also quicker.
“Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in America. And it’s the leading cancer killer around the world. It kills more people than the four next cancers combined. It’s not the most common but it is the leading killer. The key is to try to catch it early,” said Michael Bousamra, a thoracic surgeon at the University of Louisville and president of Breath Diagnostics.
In need for the greens
Startups are looking for funding. Investors come to Austin to scoop out ideas they could possibly back. Creators know that and they are in full pitch mode at all times. Creating the next big tech revolution isn’t cheap. They need some cash.
Tim Draper was swarmed with people after a presentation in Austin.
“I can do the pitch in one minute,” an entrepreneur said.
Tim Draper’s people told him to send them an email.
Draper is the founding partner of Draper Associates. Have you used Gmail recently? Well, he helped bring that to the world. Through viral marketing, Draper made email services profitable. His grandfather was a venture capitalist. His dad was, too.
“South by (as it is also known) allows you to go to a place where all those entrepreneurs have consolidated. It’s a fun event, it’s an exciting place to be, lots of new entrepreneurs, lots of new ideas. Maybe I’ll see something I’ll want to fund. Maybe I’ll just start to see trends,” Draper told VOA.
“We’re open, we’re kind of looking for the next great entrepreneur to make a great transformation,” he added.
Some tech startups pray everyday it would be them. This week they do so at SXSW.